Politics & Policy

Going Through Withdrawal

It speaks volumes about Obama that his plan comes before going to Iraq.

As someone who monitors the Iraq-war-policy debate closely, I was puzzled to open the New York Times and see an oped authored by Sen. Barack Obama entitled “My Plan for Iraq.” Besides the seemingly moderate tone — and calling for an Afghanistan “surge” (an idea I agree, and one proposed by Sen. Joe Lieberman in March) — not much in the piece is new or newsworthy. In the final analysis, the oped is another dogmatic addendum to Obama’s “withdrawal at any cost” position.

In fact, just one question entered my head when I finished reading: Why now? Why would Sen. Obama — or any legislator, for that matter — write such a piece before visiting the country for himself, seeing the situation with his own eyes, and speaking with commanders and troops who actually know what’s going on?

It strikes me that only someone who is signaling no interest in consulting with commanders on the ground would spell out his “plan” for Iraq just one week before he visits the country for the first time in 918 days. Only someone who is arrogant enough to believe he always knows best would outline his Iraq policy before once meeting one-on-one with General David Petraeus.

The only conceivable answer to the question is that Sen. Obama believes he can capitalize on Prime Minister Maliki’s recent comments about a timeline for U.S. withdrawal. Maliki’s comments, important primarily because they demonstrate increased Iraqi strength and confidence, have been diluted by the fact that he didn’t actually call for a timeline after all. All withdrawal talks will be tied to conditions on the ground.

Maliki’s strong statements do provide the opportunity for withdrawal — a withdrawal based on the improved security brought on by the surge, improvements Senator Obama admits in his Times oped. What Sen. Obama fails to say there is that he adamantly opposed the surge, predicting last September on the basis of scant evidence that “It is a course that will not succeed.” Sen. Obama should admit his error in judgment in opposing the surge, and not compound that error now by once again announcing plans for Iraq without full knowledge of the facts on the ground — collecting the evidence that would enable him to develop a commonsense, conditions-based approach for troop withdrawal. Admitting mistakes, however, is something Obama does not do well.

Sen. Obama’s piece once again perpetuates the fallacious notion that the Iraqi government “has not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge.” This assertion — backed up by wishful thinking — runs directly counter to reports from the ground; reports which Sen. Obama will himself receive in just one week.

Obama has said repeatedly (here & here) that if congressional benchmarks are met, the hasty withdrawal he desired could be slowed. Not so now, however. Even though the Iraqi government has met 15 of the 18 benchmarks set before it by Congress — and is stamping out Sunni terrorism and Shia militia activity within its borders — this still does not constitute political accommodation, according to Sen. Obama. It seems that nothing short of a Whole Foods in every village will stop the perpetuation of this falsehood.

Underlying the Left’s persistent pessimism on Iraq is the idea, as Sen. Obama says, that our mission in Iraq should be to “end the war.” As president, this would be his first directive. This was also the prerogative of Sen. Obama — and many of his Senate colleagues — in January 2007 when the surge was proposed. Surge proponents wanted to succeed in Iraq, while Sen. Obama & Co. wanted to “end the war.” Where would we be today if “ending the war” had been the mission then? And where will we be tomorrow if it becomes the mission now?

Without the surge, which induced countless positive developments across the military and political spectrums in Iraq, Maliki would not be making the bold and promising statements he is making today, and the U.S. wouldn’t be contemplating an even faster draw down than previously planned.

Yet despite the undeniable — and transformational — progress that has been made, it looks like Sen. Obama has no plans to actually modify his Iraq stance. This would indeed be a shame.

Six weeks ago, Vets for Freedom ran two ads (here & here) calling on Sen. Obama to visit Iraq for the first time in two-and-a-half years and finally meet, face-to-face, with General David Petraeus. The intent of the ads was to pressure Sen. Obama to visit the country; a trip which we believed would go a long way in moderating his position.

Soon after, Sen. Obama announced that he would visit Iraq before the election, and we sincerely applaud his willingness to do so. As veterans, we have no desire to see Obama moderate his Iraq stance so we can say “we told you so” or call him a “flip-flopper.” We want to see him change his stance because reality demands it, and our sacrifice compels it.

Unfortunately, Monday morning’s oped calls into question Sen. Obama’s willingness to objectively review the situation on the ground and make decisions based on what’s best for our nation’s security, rather than what’s best for his candidacy. We will continue to monitor his position, as well as those of his colleagues, to ensure they reflect the facts on the ground.

Captain Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006, is executive director of Vets for Freedom.

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